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Girl From Nowhere, St James Studio – Review

Pros: Some of the best blues and rock music of the ‘60s, performed with attitude.

Cons: The interval breaks the spell and momentum of a short play.

Pros: Some of the best blues and rock music of the ‘60s, performed with attitude. Cons: The interval breaks the spell and momentum of a short play. Jeannie Hogan is rocking out in her bedroom, at her parents’ house in a small Texan desert town. Her mother would like her to keep the noise down. Jeannie’s response is petulant; with an eye-roll and some muttered insults she grabs the portable tape deck and starts speaking into it. Almost a textbook scene of adolescence, but not quite, because Jeannie doesn’t just think she’s too big for this room, this house,…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

Victoria Rigby is electrifying as a classic ‘60s rock chick.

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Jeannie Hogan is rocking out in her bedroom, at her parents’ house in a small Texan desert town. Her mother would like her to keep the noise down. Jeannie’s response is petulant; with an eye-roll and some muttered insults she grabs the portable tape deck and starts speaking into it. Almost a textbook scene of adolescence, but not quite, because Jeannie doesn’t just think she’s too big for this room, this house, this town, she knows it; she’s already been big in Austin!

Victoria Rigby has written a classic tale of the struggle to escape small town expectations. Set in the late 1960s, it follows Jeannie in flashback as she progresses from singing country music backing vocals in poky Odessa bars, to headlining rock gigs all across the state. Along the way there are men, drugs, booze, egos and lots of great blues and rock. Rigby, who plays Jeannie, is joined on stage by her band: Dominic Gee-Burch and Matthew Stevens on guitar, Tom Dixon on drums. Together they’re a powerful musical force, and their swaggering covers of Muddy Waters, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix and others are really the highlight of the show. Rigby makes an electrifying rock-chick; confident, sexy and volatile. Tom Dixon as her lover, Chet, has the hippy shirt and the bare feet, but he never takes his eyes off Jeannie and exudes a quiet menace that’s anything but zen.

Rigby’s writing evokes a really strong sense of time and place. The endless roads and sweltering service stations of Texas form a vivid backdrop to the story, and the very specific geographical hierarchy of Odessa, Austin, Houston…California, shows up Jeannie’s ambitions for being admirably bold yet rather parochial and entirely of their time. However, the structure of the play is a bit clunky. The sections where the story is played out live on stage, through music, are dynamic and engaging. The parts where it’s just Jeannie and her tape recorder feel more contrived. So it’s a shame that a lot of spoken exposition is crammed into the last ten minutes. And whilst an interval may be essential for the performers, it does break the momentum of a short play and brings us rudely back from bottled beer and acid to dry white wine and e-cigs.

Still, on either side of the interval the St James Studio makes a convincing smoky dive, and it is a pleasant surprise to see such bold use of lighting in the space. Matt Cater’s design, along with sudden changes in the musical volume and tempo, helps to snap us back and forth between the loud, edgy haunts of Jeannie’s past and the quiet, suburban misery of her present.

Jeannie is not an entirely likeable character, and her journey is not entirely unfamiliar; there are obvious shades of Janis Joplin, with a bit of Forrest Gump’s girlfriend thrown in. But the story is mostly a vehicle for revisiting some of the best music of the 1960s, with a singer who really lights up the stage. If, on the way, Rigby show us the residual conservatism of the beatnik generation and leaves us wondering whether or not Jeannie ever made it past 27, well, that’s just a bonus.

Author: Victoria Rigby
Director: Whitney Mosery
Musical Director: Dominic Gee-Burch
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.

About Clare Annamalai

Clare Annamalai
A commercial manager in the pharma industry, Clare dreams of doing something a bit more luvvy. She has a degree in English & French from Oxford University, and is a qualified translator. When she’s not driving thermometer sales she’s probably driving her daughters to yet another birthday party, or cleaning out the hamster. So if she occasionally slopes off for a sneaky theatre fix, it’s really the least she deserves. Her preference is for shows where she can sit down and not be expected to participate in any way at all.